I was asked one question a lot this past week: how is fashion in Seoul, or fashion in South Korea as a whole, different to fashion in London/the UK/the West? It’s an interesting question, and one that I actually particularly enjoy answering rather than shying away from with answers like ‘oh, they’re both great!!’ or ‘there isn’t really that much of a difference’.
Simply because there is a difference. There’s a veritable Grand Canyon sized chasm of a difference when it comes to personal style.
It might be that I’m from a small town, that my bubble isn’t inner city in vibrance and that my exposure to a lot of ‘style’ has come through magazines, internet forums, and whatever was happening at school. Or wasn’t, as the case generally seemed. I’ve grown up where fashion is ‘practical’, uniforms throughout school – even in 6th form where we could wear our own clothes, still practical – didn’t exactly provide the best breeding ground for experimenting, and if you did, you generally got ridiculed. So forgive me if my views are slightly tinted though I’m all for conversation so I’d love to hear your own experiences.
But generally, I feel that fashion in the East versus fashion in the West boils down to one particular aspect: fun. Which, on the grounds that a lot of East Asia is grounded in Confucianism, respect is paramount in society, and the likelihood of bending to, rather than going against, is far greater, seems that the West should win, right?
The West, with it’s freedom and it’s klout and power to say what’s fashion and what is not, should, really, win, right? If winning is a thing, that is.
But I find that it doesn’t.
I find that in the West, there are a lot more rules. Unspoken rules. There’s what you should and shouldn’t wear, the uniform shifts seasonally, but there’s a definite vibe of ‘do what you want but please, keep it within these lines’. I know girls and boys who have felt the need to dilute their style identity, for want of a better phrase, so that they’re made to feel less uncomfortable by others. Regardless of how much it’s repeated that ‘style is individual’, and that ‘you shouldn’t care what people think’, there’s still this invisible line. If you cross it then you’re apparently fair game for harassment.
I feel that the success of the ‘influencer’/blogger has compounded this somewhat. It’s a horribly grey area, and I don’t want to smear everything with a tarred brush in a heavy handed way, but it’s sort of just become the norm that ‘personal style’ bloggers have … sort of stopped being personal style bloggers. I’ve spoken about that before (are fashion bloggers the death of personal style?), but I just can’t shake the feeling that it’s ‘conform until you’re big enough to do your own thing’. It’s like the style bloggers that inspired me to start up this space, the ones that I started reading in the first place for inspiration in my own fashion, have started morphing into one… It’s not exactly ‘personal fashion’ anymore, if everyone is styling things in the same way to stay on trend. I’m incredibly happy that style blogging is opening doors to so many people who have tried to get into the elitist industry that is fashion, but I feel like it’s coming at the expense of individuality.
coat – boohoo.com // sweater – forever21 // black top – dorothy perkins // skirt – h&m // flat suedette otk boots – daisystreet via asos // sunglasses – asos
In Seoul, there’s so much more fun. There’s an actual freedom that’s hard to pin down, but I feel is rooted in the fact that most of the people here keep their comments to themselves. When I was in Seoul the first time, towards the end of my year abroad I felt so much more free in my fashion choices and my ability to wear things that I actually really liked, safe in the knowledge that I wasn’t going to have random people yell at me across the street or snark at me on social media.
There are still the unspoken rules – like the minute spring hits you’ll swap the winter wear for denim or leather(/leatherlook/plether), the modesty standards are different, and you’ll see things crop up time and time again until you feel that you need that item in your wardrobe – but it’s the way things are put together, the actual styling, I feel is more personal. It’s more exactly how that person would wear it, rather than how it was styled on the mannequin in Topshop. You’d never think that the clothes are wearing the person, the way people have confidence to pull off even the most lurid of neons is commendable.
Fashion Week is usually a melting pot of the more ‘outre’ outfits, the more OTT the better in some books, but the wonderful thing about style in East Asia, is that you’ll see everything from normcore to fabulously flashy, and still see that on the streets on a regular Tuesday. Everyone is pretty chill with other people’s fashion choices here. Sure you may get the odd older person who gives you a double glance, but I haven’t seen – or at least haven’t personally experienced – anyone have their outfit systematically ridiculed if it doesn’t ‘fit’ with what’s trending currently.
Sure you still have the way trends are in all of the major shopping districts 200 times over, and you’ll see variations of the same style on different people, but there’s still something for almost every style niche in any given season, which I feel is where the high street falls down in the West, unless you’re shopping basics. Even the ‘fashion terrorists’ (the term given to people who can’t, for the love of anything, seem to dress themselves well) aren’t that bad, and the term is usually used more endearingly, or comically, than as a direct insult.
A small part of the reason I decided to come back to South Korea was to do with the utter lack of inspiration I was feeling for fashion in the UK. Don’t get me wrong, there are some absolutely fabulous guys and girls killing their individual style games something fierce, but I’ve noticed that they (almost) all label themselves as ‘alt’ bloggers. Why does personal style, like actual personal style, not watered down, drip-fed, kind-of personal style, get labeled alternative?
I caught myself at one point earlier this year, when I was decided whether or not to buy some culottes from Asos, and asked myself why I was so afraid to buy them if I liked them so much? I’d legitimately been thinking about them hourly from the moment I’d seen them, they looked like they’d be immense fun to wear, let alone style; wide legged, contrasting stripes in a brown and white colourway. I fell in love instantly, and still ended up asking multiple people if I should get them, because oh gosh wow they’re odd aren’t they?!? They’re not your high waisted joni jeans, or artfully ripped band tee with a choker style neck.
(Honestly, they turned out to be one of the best purchases I’ve made this year I am thoroughly in love with them.)
Personal style is, obviously, very much a personal thing. Wear what you want, wear what you like, but I often find myself wondering more and more where it went, and if I’m doing enough to get my own across.
So I saw this jumper in Forever21 last year when I was in Birmingham with Lizzie, and I wanted it so much, but couldn’t really bring myself to part with the money that it was at that point in time. I then tried to find it on the website but couldn’t really, and spent probably a lot more time than I’d like to admit pining after the same style of sweater. Then when I was on my visa run in London, I stopped into the flagship branch on Oxford Street and saw it in the sale. Happy days got even better when I was told it was all of £4. It made the pain of visa purchasing a little bit better.
Flat OTKs were another pretty permanent feature on my mental wishlist, and I’m so happy that I have these DaisyStreet boots in my life, they’re so comfortable and I love the lace up detail on the back.
The coat is a boohoo find, it’s perfect for this season even though I got it quite a while back now. Gingham’s got it’s claws into spring so I’ll probably be wearing this out quite a bit as the weather starts to warm up.
Finally, sunglasses. An absolute steal in an Asos sale at £3. Hell to the yeeeeeees.]
Like I said, my outlook has probably been shaped by my experiences growing up, and even though I don’t think my thoughts would change drastically if I’d been brought up in London, I still feel that the flame of creativity is somewhat burning on it’s last oils unless something starts changing. For now, I’ll take all the inspiration that South Korea, and the rest of the Eastern fashion scene can throw at me.
I’d also love to hear your thoughts on this topic too. Do you think that personal style is dying as fashion blogging grows? If you’ve been to South Korea, or Asia, what do you think of the differences in fashion?
photos: devina over at www.earlgreyandbubbletea.com